Petitions are circulating in Michigan. They include measures to protect the right to abortion, end mandatory minimum prison sentences and cap interest rates on payday loans.
Petitions are circulating in Michigan asking voters to support several issues that could end up on the November ballot. They include measures to protect the right to abortion, end mandatory minimum prison sentences and cap interest rates on payday loans.
Journalist Yue Stella Yu follows petition campaigns for WDET’s reporting partner, Detroit Bridge. She says there are different types of petitions.
“You can petition the state government to establish a law, repeal a newly enacted law by referendum, or change the state constitution,” she says.
“I would ask more questions about the content to make sure I fully understand it before signing it.” —Yue Stella Yu, Bridge Detroit reporter
Yu says the first step is to submit a copy of a petition to the Michigan Secretary of State. Groups typically ask the Board of State Solicitors to approve the format of the petition and a brief summary of its purpose.
“This minimizes the risk of the petition being rejected later in the process,” Yu said.
Learn more about Yue Stella Yu: Michigan 2022 Petition Drives Tracker: What to Know About Election Proposals
Groups can then begin circulating petitions and asking voters to sign them. They must collect a minimum number of valid signatures to be eligible for the ballot. Yu says that number varies depending on how many people voted in the 2018 election.
“For example, to establish a new law, you would need to obtain at least 340,047 valid signatures,” she says. That’s 8% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
Not all petitions end up on the ballot
The legislature can pass petitions requesting new laws within 40 days. If so, the governor cannot veto them, because citizens — not lawmakers — initiated the measures.
If the legislature rejects or does not act on these petitions, then they are put to a vote. Requests for constitutional amendment and referendum are addressed directly to voters.
Voters should understand what they are signing before putting their name on a petition.
“I would ask more questions about the content to make sure I fully understand it before signing it,” Yu says.
But when voters ask such questions, petition distributors don’t have to tell them the truth.
Learn more about WDET: Bills would crack down on lying petition distributors
Follow the money – if you can
Yu wrote an article about how difficult it is to know who pays for petition campaigns. The Secretary of State lets you view campaign finance reports and see which groups donate money to petition committees. But in most cases, these groups do not have to disclose their donors.
“For more than 90% of the money that funds these election campaigns, voters cannot know who is behind these efforts,” Yu says.